Sunday, June 17, 2018

Thumbscrew - Theirs (Cuneiform, 2018)

This is the second album released this spring by the excellent modern jazz trio Thumbscrew. The band is made up of Tomas Fujiwara on drums, Mary Halvorson on electric guitar and Michael Formanek on acoustic bass, and this is a collection that covers the works of other composers while the other album Ours, consisted of original works. They begin the album with the song “Stablemates” by Benny Golson, nodding to the funky hard bop roots of the original version, while adding sky accents of soaring guitar to the crisp and gently grooving rhythm. “Benzihno” by Brazilian composer Jacob Do Bandolim is a sharper edged uptempo performance, where the band is able to take the source material and make their own statement, molding it like clay into a powerful collective improvisation. Herbie Nichols was sadly ignored during his lifetime, but generations of jazz musicians have been enthralled by his his distinctive compositions and piano playing. The band takes his “House Party Starting” to new heights with a lengthy exploration of the song and its possibilities, loosening the strings that tie it to the jazz orthodoxy and building a free ranging improvisation, one that allows there to be solos and mighty trio improvisation complete with colorful guitar playing, firm bass playing and brisk and decisive drumming. Jimmy Rowles' "The Peacocks" is a fine feature for guitarist Mary Halvorson, and she makes the most of it by demonstrating her unique approach to the instrument, one that is never flashy, yet uses notes and chords in a way that is unexpected, throwing off sparks while hewing to the underlying rhythmic construct of the performance. The choice of Wayne Shorter's composition "Dance Cadaverous" is an inspired one, since the mysterious, open ended nature of Shorter's writing suits the band very well. Without being deliberately enigmatic, the music stays fluid and conforms no fixed shape, bending to external ideas that the band members bring to the performance. Halvorson's guitar sneaks through the undergrowth and then emits qualls of neon tinted notes in the midst of tumbling percussion and taut bass playing. "Weer is een dag voorbij" by Misha Mengelberg is a perfect closer for this album, and they nod to the composer's impish sense of humor with a enlivening and decisive performance that is especially pleasing and attractive in the manner of playing that focuses on band unity and togetherness. The music of Thumbscrew is powerful and particularly interesting, as they have delineated their own personal sound, one that can approach an album of covers while maintaining their identity and delivering a remarkable performance. Theirs - amazon.com

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Friday, June 15, 2018

Thumbscrew - Ours (Cuneiform, 2018)

This is a double dose of good news with the excellent trio Thumbscrew consisting of Tomas Fujiwara on drums, Mary Halvorson on electric guitar and Michael Formanek on acoustic bass reconvening for two albums on the great Cuneiform Records imprint which nearly shut down earlier this year do to financial constraints. This album focuses on the group's original compositions, beginning with "Snarling Joys," a track that opens with some taut bass playing and layered percussion, with subtle guitar playing adding color to the mix. There is a nimble melody that the musicians develop with the resulting improvisation becoming quite intricate, as the guitar adds slurred accents to the sharp picking and the bass and drums create a very interesting rhythmic counterweight. Their collective improvisation drops into a spacious bass solo with quiet cymbal tapping, allowing the music to be characterized by constant change and progress. The fascinatingly titled "Cruel Heartless Bastards" has an ominous rhythmic approach of lumbering bass and drums that occasionally sprint ahead, giving the music a slightly off kilter feel. When the guitar comes in, this sensibility of fractured music that is continuously changing shape is reinforced, with the music becoming more powerful after the halfway point of the performance as shimmering otherworldly sounding guitar sounds meld with shape shifting percussion and agile bass playing to excellent effect. Their trio improvisation is very impressive and melds elements of rock and electronic music into the improvised jazz context. "One Day" opens with spare and probing guitar work, in an unaccompanied solo that sets a mysterious vibe as the quiet bass and drums glide in. Their music never resolves like you think it might, keeping the listener on their toes with brushed percussion and thick bass playing and the patience and trust that the musicians have for one another, allowing the music to slowly and gradually evolve without rushing or forcing anything. The pace of the performance to gradually increases in volume and tempo as the music evolves in an organic manner to a fine conclusion. There is a gentler sensibility to "Words That Rhyme With Spangle" with a floating aspect to the music that develops into an anchoring beat, allowing the bass and guitar to range free and allow the music to shine with a soft tremulous light, with glints of electric guitar like shooting stars across the music's field of view. The band developed most of this music during a residency in Pittsburgh, which allowed them room to focus on composition and interpretation, with the payoff being the production of excellent and unique music. Ours - amazon.com

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Thursday, June 14, 2018

Angles 3 - Parede (Clean Feed, 2018)

Angles 3 is the stripped down trio version of the great medium sized modern jazz bands Angles 8 and Angles 9 who have put out some of the best progressive jazz of the past several years. This version of the group consists of Ingebrigt Haker Flaten on bass, Kjell Nordeson on drums and percussion and Martin Kuchen on tenor and soprano saxophone. It adds up to a stellar album that was recorded live in Parede, Portugal during November of 2016. They distill the essence of their music from American free jazz and European free improvisation, leveraging ferocious playing with snatches of bop like themes delivered with passion and grace. "Equity and Death (Mothers, Fathers, Where Are Ye)" opens the album with bass and drums developing a foundational beat, with the saxophone probing at the edges as the group gathers strength and inertia. The trio builds to an exciting and scouring brand of free improvisation, with dynamic shifts and crushing cymbal beats. This leads the band back to cruising speed, like a fine motor building velocity through gear shifts. The raw and rending tenor saxophone that Kuchen achieves is arresting and adds a deeply compelling feeling to the band's performance. "Satan in Plain Clothes" has a Håker Flaten solo bass opening that is patient and well articulated, with the tenor saxophone and drums diving in, keeping things fresh, as the rhythm section and ripe saxophone develop a powerful collective improvisation. They build from a medium tempo to a loud roar, with yelps of encouragement to take things ever higher. The rolling drums and imperturbable bass bring the noise as the saxophonist briefly lays out before returning for a mighty conclusion. The epic near twenty-three minute track "Francisco / By Way of Deception" has thick waves of high intensity trio improvisation pushing forth, being totally in the moment, as Kuchen switches to soprano saxophone changing the nature of the improvisation as he gains a personal pinched sound for an unaccompanied solo section followed by a grand exploration of space and time by the full trio. This is very exciting as the soprano saxophone carves a narrow twisting path through the broad bass and drums. The rhythm section pummels mercilessly in a thrilling manner before dropping into a towering trio conclusion. The concluding track is "Don't Ruin Me / Love Flee Thy House (In Breslau)" which is a sprawling seventeen minute masterwork where the low and subtly playing bass and drums catch fire and begin to burn with rough hewn saxophone adding fuel to the fire. They build a dynamic loud / soft way of playing that is very effective in ramping up the tension, leading to another very effective bass solo, and stick the landing with a high powered trio improvisation proving a vehement conclusion to this wonderful live album. Parede - amazon.com

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Sunday, June 10, 2018

Dave Holland - Uncharted Territories (Dare2, 2018)

The great bassist and composer Dave Holland may be best known from the compelling mainstream quintets he has lead, and by his early association with Miles Davis. But he has vast experience in the more experimental realms, in associations with Sam Rivers, Anthony Braxton and most importantly for this album, saxophonist and free improvisation pioneer Evan Parker. This is a fascinating two disc studio album that brings Holland together with Parker, percussionist Ches Smith, and pianist Craig Taborn. They shift and move into varying configurations to keep in the music fresh, and they results are positive, playing experimental jazz with confidence and authority. "Thought on Earth" opens gradually with bowed bass and vibes creating a hushed atmosphere, with Parker's saxophone playing soft melodic swirls. Spare piano and the switch to plucked bass gradually changes the music as it becomes louder and more frenetic, coalescing into an exciting collective improvisation. There is a spirited and quickly moving aspect to "Q and A" with vibes playing off against piano as the saxophone makes filigrees of its own, buckling down into a fast and nimble three way improvisation, that darts in unexpected directions. "QT12" has long tones of saxophone paired with gentle and evanescent piano playing and thick elastic bass. Things evolve quickly however, and we are soon faced with a very exciting quartet improvisation that is fast and loud, moving into classical free jazz territory in a fresh and interesting way, with Holland's muscular bass powering the band and allowing Parker to take flight when needed with ample support. The outlier "Organ Vibes V1" is quite interesting in developing unexpected textures from the two instruments which aren't often found together. The music slowly comes together across a drone from the organ as the vibes chime patiently, developing a sustained ringing sound that is ceremonial in nature, before they come together for an eerie and haunting duet section. "QT5" has the band developing a sound of freedom and spare interaction that gradually grows more intense pith the piano bass and drums offering an ever shifting complement to Parker's swathes of saxophone. The spaciousness that is at the heart of this improvisation allows the musicians to move in their own space and interact with each other as their roles overlap. The duet "Tenor Bass W1" is a highlight of the album, with these two veteran musicians showing their masterful tones and command of their instruments in a sympatico improvisation. "Piano Bass Percussion T2" allows the rhythm section to take the stand and explore in a wide open arena, that makes for scattered and skittish rhythm where the results ebb and flow showing the way in which three instruments have an effect on each other in an almost Newtonian sense. The album is wrapped up with "QW1" a ten minute summation that progresses slowly by degrees, with spare notes and tones hanging in open space, which ever so slowly gets filled in with resonant bass, shimmering cymbals and long arcing tones of saxophone, finally resulting in a collective improvisation of rare grace. Uncharted Territories - amazon.com

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Marc Ribot's Ceramic Dog - YRU Still Here? (Northern Spy, 2018)

Guitarist and songwriter Marc Ribot acts as the conscious of social justice within the modern music community, with his passionate avocation for the rights of musicians. Ceramic Dog is his most provocative and political of his many bands, and on this disc he is responsible for guitars, keyboards and vocals with Shahzad Ismaily on bass and keyboards and Ches Smith on drums, electronics and vocals. The music has a DIY punk aesthetic that pushes the boundaries of rock, jazz and social commentary. They plant their flag in the ground right away with "Personal Nancy" declaring that the rights and privileges of American citizens are vital, no matter who is in power, and the lashing, slashing music makes the band's commitment is laser focused. There is a slinky groove to open "Pennsylvania 6 6666" but the lyrics make clear things are not as idyllic as they may seem, with racism, violence and intolerance bubbling just below the placid surface. Mauricio Herrera guests on congas with Doug Wieselman sits in on flute, developing a rhythmic powerful sensibility. They build a great fast paced groove with the extra musicians and adding some horn accents to the mix. Things get gnarly on "Agnes" with snarling guitars and pounding bass and drums with distorted vocals. The music courts danger, and the players are challenging themselves with the proggy synth smears, and funhouse vibe. "Oral Sidney With A "U" is an instrumental that has a gritty city connection to it, shot through with veins of electronics and experimentation. The thick electric bass and subtle drumming show the group developing an innovative style. The title track "YRU Still Here?" has a surprising acoustic quality, with world weary vocals, as the band fills in the soundscape gradually keeping the hint of the blues while framing the vocals and their sense of exhaustion, that takes off toward the end of the performance with some majestic electric guitar playing. The protest song "Muslim Jewish Resistance" is an absolute powerhouse with riveting music and chant along vocals that wouldn't sound out of place in a socially conscious hardore band. The vow of "never again" is particularly powerful when framed by squalls of free jazz and their opposition to and refusal to accept the status quo. The lengthy and atmospheric "Shut That Kid Up" is strong, no nonsense improvisation, aggressively swinging and finding a common ground where the Mahavishnu Orchestra meet Ronald Shannon Jackson's Decoding Society. "Fuck La Migra" is their most aggressive track, with the classic line stating that the "president is dumber than an artichoke." The album is a bracing jolt of energy that defies easy categorization moving from prog to punk and raucous electric jazz. YRU Still Here - amazon.com

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Friday, June 08, 2018

Joshua Redman - Still Dreaming (Nonesuch, 2018)

Saxophonist and composer Joshua Redman is joined by Brian Blade on drums and percussion, Scott Colley on bass and Ron Miles on trumpet for an album inspired by his father Dewey's band, Old and New Dreams. That band was inspired by their mentor, Ornette Coleman, continuing acoustically as Coleman moved on into a new direction od electronic music. "New Year" begins the album with an exciting and fast paced full band opening theme and melody opening, followed by fast but well controlled saxophone with crisp rhythm accompaniment, and a strong and punchy trumpet interlude, along with bass and drums trading short sections. The jaunty theme has echoes of classic period Coleman lines and Redman and Miles jettison the rhythm briefly for some Ornette / Done Cherry freestyling. There is a brisk harmonized horn opening on "Unanimity," with the bass and drums dropping in and out, before laying down a firm foundation for Redman's exploratory saxophone solo. The trio moves at a very fast clip with Blade's active drumming driving the music ever forward. A choppy re-statement of the theme launches Miles into a solo slot, where he plays with grace and fluidity along with thick bass and rolling percussion. The band comes together nicely for a freebop collective improvisation that carries them through to the conclusion. "Haze and Aspirations" develops a thoughtful and spare bass solo that leads the group into a winsome theme framed by subtle brushed percussion, as the horns play melancholy lines that are attractive and appealing within the context of the overall theme. The horns have a light touch and play together very well, before branching out for individual medium tempo solos. Colley is at the center of this whole performance and his playing is delicate and precise throughout, with a deep tone and understated virtuosity.  There is slow and steady approach to "It's Not the Same," leading to music of depth, as the horns twist and turn around one another like a double helix and minimal percussion and bass keep the groove open to any possibility, leading into "Blues for Charis" which has a bluesy saxophone opening soulful and genuine feeling. The other musicians gradually fold in, starting with bass, then drums and trumpet, with everybody pulling together for a memorable and evocative theme. The quartet's improvisation grows much more strident and free, reaching deep within themselves for music of great impact. The horn solos continue this trend, with tight bass and drums complementing them the whole way, before the music moves back to the moody theme for the final finish. "Playing" has resonant bowed bass under thoughtful saxophone and trumpet, beginning in a pastel and painterly fashion, before insistent drums move in and change the pace of the performance entirely to a fast wide open improvisation that takes the theme and uses it for a wide ranging improvised section for the whole band together focusing on the unit as a whole rather then individual musician within. Fluid music that comes in dynamic waves is the nature of "Comme II," sounding open in scope but tightly controlled with bowed bass textures and yearning horn playing reaching to a scream that has an intense feeling of longing, evidenced by some of Redman's most intense playing on record. Finally "The Rest" concludes the album with stark and moody playing and an elegiac setting, one that gradually rises in volume and intensity, cultivating an emotional middle section that is characterized by intense feeling, that fades to silence before returning for a blistering trumpet line and echoing almost dub saxophone, creating a coda that is at odds with the majority of the music on the album. Although this album was inspired by the great Old and New Dreams records on Black Saint and ECM, they are far from a repertory unit. This is a very talented modern mainstream jazz band that uses the totality of post-bop jazz as an inspiration for a finely crafted musical statement. Still Dreaming - amazon.com

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Thursday, June 07, 2018

The Thing - Again (Trost Records, 2018)

The legendary free jazz powerhouse called The Thing consists of Mats Gustafsson on tenor and baritone saxophones, Ingebrigt Håker Flaten on electric and acoustic basses and Paal Nilssen-Love on drums and percussion. After a dozen plus albums and collaborations, the band sounds as fresh as ever, opening with "Sur Face," composed by Gustafsson, which is a sprawling, brawling twenty-one minute performance that opens in classic Thing fashion as rolling drums meet scouring saxophone and stoic bass for an unbeatable combination. The opening minutes offer full bore free improvisation, bracing and thrilling stuff with the robust toned tenor saxophone, hyperkinetic drumming and elastic bass playing coming to the forefront. The long piece will wax and wane proceeding to an acoustic bass solo played deftly and patiently, both plucked and bowed, creating subtly designed intricate textures. The trio comes together with quiet grace, painting with sound in long tones of sandpaper gritty saxophone and strokes of bowed bass with subtle percussion framing the action. Roiling drums gather pace, extending in ever widening undulations, building to a stellar solo spot, alternately pulvering and polyrhythmic. The group comes back together, hand in glove, and turns up the heat in a memorable collective improvisation, causing great enthusiasm and eagerness within their interplay. Great gales of rending tenor saxophone and thick bass aided by complex drumming lead into The Thing's signature sound, bass and drums drop out as Gustafsson takes an unaccompanied spot powering through a muscular solo, punctuated by his own screams. Things ebb again to a subtle ghostly interplay, easing to a quiet if uneasy conclusion. Reflected and refracted spooky sound opens "Decision in Paradise" composed by the great saxophonist Frank Lowe, enveloping patient bass and saxophone, as the music eases forward and welcomes the trumpet of guest and oft-time Thing collaborator Joe McPhee whose passion for modern jazz is an inspiration. His puckered sound is an excellent foil for the saxophone and makes the most of the open space available. Cymbals shimmer as McPhee pushes forward gaining momentum, taking the band on his shoulders as the intensity reaches as boil for a four way improvised section of exciting and stirring power. Håker Flaten moves to electric bass for his own composition, "Vicki Di," adding a cool sound for the band to use, with the saxophone and drumming soon giving chase. This leads to a thrilling free for all with the unperturbed bobbing bass at the center of the action. Saxophone and drums lay out for an outrageously exciting Hendrixian electric bass solo filled with fireworks and massive drones. Everyone piles on for a intense blowout that will set your hair on end, and leave the listener giddy with excitement. The Thing (plus honorary member McPhee) are masters of their respective instruments and this allows them to make such continuously interesting albums. There is always a sense of exploring the unknown, that need to know what is over the next hill, that drives their wonderful music. This is an absolute must for free jazz fans as the group is at the top of their game throughout this stellar album. Again - amazon.com

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Monday, June 04, 2018

Marty Ehrlich with John Hebert and Nasheet Waits - Trio Exaltation (Clean Feed, 2018)

It appears that Clean Feed Records is focusing on trio recordings during this release cycle, and this session is a high quality one, featuring Marty Ehrlich on alto saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet and wooden flutes, John Hebert on bass and Nasheet Waits on drums. All three were men played together Andrew Hill's last group, and adhering to his influence, the music is open and flexible, with Ehrlich cycling through his instruments to add differences and varied textures, along with wonderfully rhythmic playing from the bass and drums. "Dusk" is a track from their time with Hill and it opens with spare bass and drums leaving plenty of room for the saxophone to swoop and swirl, with the trio works very well together. They complement each other's playing gracefully, keeping a medium up tempo accented with sharp citrus flavored alto saxophone, and incorporating a well articulated bass solo before the trio takes the music to an adventurous conclusion. Scouring saxophone and bowed bass usher in "Senhor P.C.," which is a nod to Pedro Costa of Clean Feed Records and it develops an unsettled atmosphere, with the music unfolding in unexpected ways, swelling in volume and tone, then receding like the tide, while the raw saxophone, swiftly bowed bass and snappy drumming create a memorable sound that is all their own. "Dance No. 5" has Ehrlich switching to clarinet, where he achieves an appealing hollow and woody sound amidst the moderate bass and percussion accompaniment. The music evolves organically with the rhythm stretching and re-shaping as the improvisation develops, engaging the clarinet in an attractive and interesting manner. A shorter piece, "Stone," is a nimble collective improvisation for saxophone, bass and drums, with Hebert's thick, taut bass tone both bowed and plucked, driving the music forward, amidst sudden sudden squalls of saxophone and drums. The centerpiece of the album is the heartrending tribute "June 11, 2015 - Memorium Ornette Coleman" which carries a sense of yearning and loss, but also a stark form of beauty, echoing Coleman's vast contribution to the jazz idiom. Ehrlich's tone on alto has a clear Coleman influence, and the band uses this as a pivot point to create an improvisation that is characterized by intense feeling. Ehrlich moves to flute for "Spirit of Jah No. 2" getting an exotic flavor and leading the music into a new lighter and more nimble format. The music on this track is quick and light in movement, and the band as a whole shows great agility. The album concludes with "Reading the River" which is a fine medium tempo performance for clarinet, bass and drums. The music has a breezy feel, with the clarinet moving in a twisting or spiraling pattern, over ever changing rhythm, and svelte bass solo. This was a very good album of modern jazz, where the veteran musicians incorporate the music of the masters like Hill and Coleman in creating a unique and uplifting statement. Trio Exaltation - amazon.com

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Sunday, June 03, 2018

Chris Pitsiokos CP Unit - Silver Bullet In The Autumn Of Your Years (Clean Feed, 2018)

This is an excellent and exciting album featuring Chris Pitsiokos on alto saxophone, sampler and synthesizer, Connor Baker or Jason Nazary on drums, Henry Fraser or Tim Dahl on electric bass and Sam Lisabeth on electric guitar. Changes in personnel on different tracks is handled seamlessly, and the music makes the utmost use of everyone's talents. "Dali Lama's Got that PMA" is a very fast and exciting collective improvisation, free and furious as the instruments circle around and engage with one another, creating a complex but very fun performance, a slice of madcap chaos made enjoyable. A funky beat pervades "Once Upon a Time Called Now" with some squiggly electronics and electric guitar meeting thick bass and drums. The music sounds exciting and fresh, electronic improvisation made new, with the saxophone entering and barreling through with a rough and ready statement all its own. They all come together with furious full band sections and then breakout areas for individual solos and textures, leading up to a blistering conclusion. "Orelius" has a choppy opening statement, and then the music opens up in a complex open improvised section, with electronics streaking across the musical sky, and bellows of saxophone and gnarly drumming. The music cracks open for a spacey section, developing an air of mystery, then long tones of guitar and saxophone reach forth increasing the volume dramatically, leading to a powerful free jazz improvisation before returning to the original choppy theme. They blast off for the unknown on "Positional Play" with withering saxophone and guitar crashing up against strong drums and bass. The pace doesn't let up as the band dives headlong into a fervent free improvisation. It's a joyous cacophony and the band is truly in their element, creating complex lines of thought that interact with one another in unexpected ways, and incorporating an excellent drum solo. The title track "Silver Bullet in the Autumn of Your Years" opens with electric guitar feeding back before the rest of the band crashes the party creating a tough and no nonsense sound field, and developing a crushing free improvisation that pulverizes everything in its path with a funky bass and drums underlay and a lights out saxophone solo. The music on this track is always morphing and twisting into something new, like a force of nature. Gradually building from an opening soundscape, "The Tower" has disjointed sounds which coalesce around the saxophone, building in volume and pace to become grinding edifice that pulses forward in an alarming fashion as a thick rhythm and strong saxophone come together with excellent results. "A Knob on the Face of Man" is a jumping performance with kaleidoscopic use of musical color, built around squalls of saxophone and guitar, sounding like a particularly unhinged Ornette Coleman and Prime Time performance. The disparate threads of the album come together on the lengthy performance "Arthropod" which gains momentum to a truly powerful closing statement, resulting in an album that is compelling and exciting in equal measures. Silver Bullet in the Autumn of Your Years - amazon.com

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Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Grant Green - Funk in France: From Paris to Antibes 1969-1970 (Resonance, 2018)

This is the second in a pair of fascinating recordings featuring the great guitarist Grant Green, and this is one reissue that really shows how he evolved from a mainstream jazz musician to a jazz funk performer. But it also makes clear that that all of these elements were present in the his musical makeup for the entirety of his career, and it isn't really fair to separate his career into "before" and "after." This collection consists of two sessions, beginning with a concert from French Radio in October of 1969 with Larry Ridley on bass and Don Lamond on drums, and they come together for an excellent set of more traditional bop based jazz. But he does show the direction that he is leaning with the opening track by James Brown, "I Don't Want Nobody To Give Me Nothing (Open Up The Door I'll Get It Myself)" which tempers the funk with acoustic bass and subtle drumming, but also allows Green to commit to a strong short solo that melds elements of rhythm and blues to modern mainstream jazz. Green has always enjoyed performing the music of saxophonist Sonny Rollins, and his displays it he on this session, playing excellent versions of "Oleo" and "Sonnymoon For Two" which are bright and propulsive performances that make the most use of strong rhythm section playing, and encourages and allows Green to to take inventive solos that use his talent of repetition and release to build momentum and take that music to a higher level. It's interesting that he includes the ballad "How Insensitive (Insensatez)" here, since it would also be performed in a vastly longer version on the Slick - Live at Oil Can Harry's album recorded in 1975 and released in tandem with this one. Where as that version mined a groove for all it is worth, this is a more subtle and boss-nova ballad where Green sticks closely to the lovely melody, and allows the bass and drums to quietly state their case. The second half of this collection is a selection of live recordings from Antibes Jazz Festival on July 18 and 20, 1970. On this disc, he is accompanied by Billy Wilson on drums and Clarence Palmer on organ. This is a really fascinating set of performances, all four of which are very long, including two versions of the Green composition "Upshot" and allowing the band to really dig deep into the melody, carving it into a deep groove that carries the music along. These version last eighteen and nearly twenty minutes apiece and allow the drums and bass pedals of the organ to carry the balance of the foundation while Green solos at length over the course of the music, maintaining his jazzy approach while allowing the music to percolate nicely. They are totally in the funk bag on the rhythm and blues standard "Hi-Heel Sneakers" with rolling waves of organ and crafty drumming. They set into a groove and a feel and carry that for over twenty-seven minutes, and it is an impressive performance that shows that this trio can play accessible music, but also challenge themselves in the process. Overall, this was a very impressive release and hopefully Resonance can follow up on their recent dives into the French Radio archives with more gems like this one. Funk In France: From Paris to Antibes 1969-1970 -  amazon.com

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Monday, May 28, 2018

Grant Green - Slick! Live at Oil Can Harry’s (Resonance, 2018)

Recorded live in Vancouver for radio in September of 1975, this music was set to tape less than four years before Green's sad death at the young age of 43. On this album, he is joined by Emmanuel Riggins on electric piano, Ronnie Ware on bass, Greg Williams on drums and Gerald Izzard on percussion. Green never really left traditional jazz behind, as evidenced by the opening performance of Charlie Parker's bebop chestnut "Now's the Time" with some soundscape filling electric piano and hand percussion meeting for a nice groove at a friendly medium tempo. Green glides in with a melodic, agreeable tone to start exploring the tune, and providing a link between the hard bop jazz of his early sixties playing with the amiable funk of his seventies approach. "How Insensitive (Insensatez)" begins as a ballad, opening for Green's unaccompanied solo, playing in a plaintive and subtle manner and he is soon joined be various percussion instruments and electric piano, developing a moody, heartbroken feel. The band is patient and thoughtful as they probe the theme and move thoughtfully to an easygoing mid-tempo with choppy percussion and nimble guitar out front and bass and electric piano shading framing the music. The keyboard sound is occasionally chintzy but effective within the bubbling percussion and guitar. The tempo gradually builds louder and faster, working well in a dynamic context when the music swells to sharply plucked guitar, rippling electric piano and percussion. They drift to near silence at one point, before rebounding and adding a whistle (!) as the guitar, keyboards and percussion grow louder, setting up a funky improvised conclusion. The remainder of the album consists of a massive thirty-two minute suite called "Medley: Vulcan Princess / Skin Tight / Woman’s Gotta Have It / Boogie On Reggae Woman / For The Love Of Money" which makes use of a montage of rhythms beginning with quiet guitar and bass, before some very surprising electronics break through, as if the keyboardist suddenly began channeling Sun Ra. They quickly recover as Green steps out for a guitar solo that is fast and fleet, as the whistle comes back, and the band moves into an exciting full band improvisation, with exciting rhythmic propulsion colored by smears of keyboard outlining a powerful statement. Loping bass and smudges of keyboard slow things down to a spacier interlude before the rattling drums bounce back and the music assumes a bright, poppy feel. The concept of groove is central to this huge performance, whether fast or slow, the group is locked in on the music and with each other. They start playing very fast about two thirds of the way through, using the technique of tension and release that propelled some of Green's best bop based work and this concept is just as effective in the funk realm, providing the energy that fuels the group's improvisation, and keeps things enjoyable for the listener. Narcotics issues would lead to an extended period of ill health and his eventual passage in the late seventies, but as seen here, Green was still able to make powerful and accessible music when the setting was right. Slick! - Live at Oil Can Harry's - amazon.com

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Sunday, May 27, 2018

Nat Birchall - Cosmic Language (Jazzman Records, 2018)

Tenor saxophonist, and percussion player Nat Birchall has been unapologetically carrying the torch of mid to late sixties  John Coltrane, combining the post-bop, free and spiritual strains of jazz over several excellent albums. This album moves in a new direction, exploring the melding of jazz and Indian music, something that also interested Coltrane greatly toward the end of his life. This album also features Michael Bardon on bass, Andy Hay on drums and percussion and Adam Fairhall on harmonium. It is this last instrument, the harmonium, that plays a key role on this album, establishing ringing drones that the other instruments can anchor themselves to as they take flight on their improvisations. The album opens with "Man From Varanasi" setting a vibe that is a clear update of the exploratory jazz recorded on the Impulse! label in the late sixties and early seventies, with the harmonium getting a massive and otherworldly drone as a strong spiritual current runs through the performance. Birchall's deep and resonant tenor saxophone is well suited to this setting and his solo is an integral part of this long and ever evolving improvisation. "Humility" has raw saxophone circling the ringing drone, held fast by thick and elastic bass playing and drums that develop a deep rhythmic sensibility. The leader's saxophone grows in intensity and volume as the piece progresses, echoing the great Coltrane/Sanders performances amidst huge slabs of keyboard and and roiling drums that focus the spiritual jazz vibe of the performance, initiating an exotic rhythmic feel that includes bowed bass in its deeply flowing texture. Saxophone and harmonium rise up and harmonize and then circle one another ecstatically as drums and bass roll underneath. The near-Eastern drone and percussion instruments continue to set the pace on "A Prayer For" with the saxophone shining brightly like the rising sun. Clattering percussion complicates the rhythm with deep strong bass playing adding to the appearance and consistency of music which is of great substance. The keyboard playing boils like molten lava, paving the way for the saxophone to re-enter in a majestic fashion and escalate into well integrated interplay with the rest of the band, building to a memorable collective improvisation that has a great deal of spontaneity and dynamic shifting. "Dervish" concludes the album with a huge droning chord and slashing percussion, with the stoic bass and saxophone evoking a release of the building tension, as the music rolls forth like a wave. They rhythm section keeps the groove going as the saxophone steps aside, building a near psychedelic cacophony, that gets even more intense with Birchall's re-entry, scouring the music with powerfully played saxophone, bringing the band together for a raw and vital conclusion with fierce determination. This album worked quite well, and is a natural progression in Birchall's questing nature as a musician and improviser, clearing a path for future exploration. Cosmic Language - amazon.com

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Saturday, May 26, 2018

Benito Gonzalez - Passion Reverence Transcendence: The Music of McCoy Tyner (Whaling City Sound, 2018)

Pianist Benito Gonzalez crafts an excellent tribute to the legendary pianist and composer McCoy Tyner by taking the master's compositions and recording his own interpretations of them in the company of Gerry Gibbs on drums and Essiet Okon Essiet on bass. Gonzalez has the strong attack and lightning fast technique indicative of Tyner, clearly one of his greatest influences, but the Venezuelan pianist is clearly his own man, with a distinctive style, and he plays these songs are played with fire and spirit. Familiar compositions are performed in different ways like "Brazilian Girls" which is actually one of the concluding pieces of the album, with a flourish of lush solo piano opening allowing the bass and percussion to gradually fold in, as the music breaks out into a hard edged rhythmic powerhouse. The mixture of ripe chords and lightning fast runs around the keyboard is enthralling as is the thick bass and percolating drumming, coming together for a bewitching full trio improvisation, with a taut bass solo that is framed by hand percussion, followed by an impressive drum solo. They blast out of the gate on "Inner Glimpse" with elastic bass and loose drumming allowing the undulating melody to develop from the piano, and the trio moves in a quickly changing morphing the music in a fast paced manner. The band is a torrid three headed beast on this selection, moving from a driving beat to quick openings for bass and drums to shine through. The keep the level of spontaneity high, accelerating to a fast pace and then breaking things down into their component parts. "Atlantis" is one of McCoy Tyner's most powerful performances, anchoring a phenomenal live album of the same name, and Gonzalez is up to the task, with Gibbs and Essiet setting a deep rhythmic foundation and the pianist firing on all cylinders, creating a ceaseless and very impressive performance. Bringing the drums to the forefront, "Rotunda" generates a bouncing pattern that suits the music well, with Gonzalez dancing around the keyboard, balancing heavy low end chords, with startlingly fast notes splaying out of the upper end. The bass and drums are dialed in and the whole group takes on the feel of a percussion ensemble at times, with gales of sound and rhythm billowing forth. Finally, "Fly With the Wind" has subtly built textures, then launches itself forward with the trio maintaining the fast paced creative energy that pervades album as a whole. Gibbs uses a battery of percussion instruments along with the cascading piano that crackles with energy, developing a hypnotic dialogue between all three instruments. This was a very good album that displayed outstanding playing and commitment to MyCoy Tyner's musical vision that is a constructive interpretation of his music. Passion Reverence Transcendence - amazon.com

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Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Henry Threadgill - Double Up, Plays Double Up Plus (Pi Recordings, 2018)

The second album this year from the legendary composer and milti-reedist Henry Threadgill is a nonet affair, with Curtis Robert Macdonald on alto saxophone, Roman Filiu on alto saxophone and alto flute, Christopher Hoffman on cello, Jose Davila on tuba, David Bryant on piano, Luis Perdomo on piano, David Virelles – piano and harmonium and Craig Weinrib and drums and percussion. "The Game Is Up" opens the album with a massive twenty-two minute sprawl of sound, with strong piano and drumming and raw cello arcing through the music with the tuba acting as its beating heart. Combining harmonium and tuba makes for a fascinating and alien sound as the piano and drums bubble underneath, leading to an off-kilter collective improvisation that uses wonderful colors and textures to create a long form gem. Probing piano and spare saxophone open "Clear and Distinct from the Other A" with bowed bass and low harmonium creating a distinct atmosphere. The sense of space and moody nature of the music is quite cinematic, with bumps of tuba creating unexpected sounds as stronger and sharper saxophone breaks out as they meld into a fascinating full band improvisation, along with a sparkling piano feature. "Clear and Distinct from the Other B" has Davila's Tuba growling underneath, with low cello and piano creating a sound of great substance. Glittering piano and wheezing harmonium add to the soundstage, creating bright and shining music, and everyone comes together in the end for a grand conclusion. The final performance is "Clear and Distinct" where puckered saxophone and tuba meet bowed cello, and a downpour of piano and percussion establishing a deep groove along with the tuba. The music grows bolder and more fierce, with a collective improvisation featuring more crushing piano chords and sparkling keyboard runs, creating a grand finale. This was an excellent album, there is just nobody in jazz that can compose and arrange like Henry Threadgill. His stretch is Ellingtonian, writing for particular instruments including ones like harmonium and tuba (and three pianists!) and allowing opportunities for the musicians to improvise within the unique setting, he is simple a treasure.Double Up Plays Double Up Plus - amazon.com

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Daniel Carter / William Parker / Matthew Shipp - Seraphic Light Live At Tufts University (AUM Fidelity, 2018)

This was a wonderful collective improvisation recorded live at Tufts University in Massachusetts during April of 2017. The trio of Daniel Carter on flute, trumpet, tenor, alto and soprano saxophones plus clarinet, William Parker on bass and Matthew Shipp on piano is made up of three of the most experienced and forward thinking musicians on the modern jazz scene. This three part long-form work is not the free jazz blowout that may be expected, but rather a subtle and nuanced performance that resonances, melding lyrical ideas with open ended improvisation. The music is fully collaborative, allowing each member to bring their own distinctive personality to the music and interact with their colleges with respect and dignity. "Part I" opens with beautifully lilting flute and piano chords and notes melding with emotional bowed bass creating quite a memorable sound, somewhat reminiscent of the early Eric Dolphy recordings with Ron Carter. The music is low in volume but shimmers with a quiet tension and creative impulse, with Parker deftly switching between plucking and bowing and Shipp adding dark and increasingly percussive chordal accompaniment. Carter moves to  trumpet, easing the flow of the music into a new channel, with ripe piano pushing the music forward, as taut bass courses underneath. This is a long track that ebbs and flows but remains vital, as Carter deftly switches instruments (much like the grand master Sam Rivers did during his trio concerts) and Shipp and Parker contribute unexpected rhythmic variations. The pianist takes a stellar solo at the midsection of the piece, creating constellations of notes and shapes that lead into Carter's return on tenor saxophone, taking a soft and supple tone along with Parker's elastic bass and Shipp's surging piano, as they use elasticity to stretch the form of the music in tone and temperament. They glide into "Part II" without stopping, showing that fertile ground that has sown between these musicians remains strong as the music opens up and breathes, and the playing is light and nimble. The music becomes gradually steeper, with cascading piano and the musicians merge into their improvisation an an sympathetic manner, coming to this music from that place outside of strict form and function. Parker's bowed bass playing is stunning, creating this very rhythmic orientation, aligned with the piano and light and airy soprano saxophone. Moving placidly into the closing "Part III," it is clear that these musicians have a deep connection and communicate on a near telepathic level. Carter's saxophone glows in the open space of the theater, with piano and bass soon joining in to create a fascinating musical journey, filled with imagination. The music calls forth a more humble and pure vision, one that is shared by all three men, and together they form an unshakable bond that shines forth from this excellent album. Seraphic Light (Live At Tufts University) - amazon.com

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Monday, May 21, 2018

Henry Threadgill 14 or 15 Kestra: Agg - Dirt... And More Dirt (Pi Recordings, 2018)

Saxophonist, flutist and composer was inspired to form a new group and write new music by the conceptual art installation “The New York Earth Room” and the sculptures of Stephen De Staebler. These works must have been very thought provoking, as Threadgill formed this large ensemble with some of the core musicians he has worked with in the past, while also injecting new blood to create two suites that are steeped in nuance, using a wide range of color, light and shadow to excellent effect. "Dirt - Part III" is a wonderful example of this as the leaders lithe and gliding saxophone weaves around tuba, percussion and piano creating a very interesting musical concept that is able to build into a complex improvised section. This shifts to an interesting brass interlude, supported by percussive piano and drums, framed by wheezy harmonium. Cutting saxophone emerges to push the group further along with a strong solo section over complex background interaction. The large ensemble has instruments that weave in as out as the arrangement and conduction desires as evidenced on "Dirt - Part IV" where the palate of the music waxes and wanes, leading to short solo sections for differently tuned trumpets, moving over the thick tuba and drums. While the music can seem unconventional, it unfolds logically and rationally, and each of the compositions is a strong unit within the greater whole. "Dirt - Part VI" ends the first suite in a very exciting fashion with a complex arrangement of instruments opening the piece, before the colors branch out in a kaleidoscopic fashions with horns interacting with reeds playing with brass who are frolicking with drums, creating a multi-layered and complex setting that drops off unexpectedly for a section of spare flute playing. This moves seamlessly into "More Dirt - Part I" where spacious drumming sets the stage for the return of the other instruments which build a lightly toned theme with flute and other reeds taking charge. The tuba, central to so much of Threadgill's work, solos in a clean and pure fashion adding the bottom, but also fresh ideas to the proceedings. The collective improvisation is fast and intricate as one of the pianists stretches out over insistent percussion and melded reeds, and then takes a brief unaccompanied solo. This is the longest track on the album and it unfolds episodically as cells of musicians are called upon to improvise and interact within the performance itself. "More Dirt - Part III" is a short and light feature for flute and other reeds, taking flight and fluttering rapidly like a group of hummingbirds in search of nectar. The interplay is complex and intricate, but always accessible to the listener. This was an excellent album, with a very talented ensemble led by one of the most iconoclastic performer on the modern jazz scene. Henry Threadgill's work is unique, inspiring and completely unpredictable. Dirt... And More Dirt - amazon.com

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Sunday, May 20, 2018

Book: Twilight of the Gods: A Journey to the End of Classic Rock by Steven Hyden (Dey Street Books, 2018)

Hyden presents an entertaining look at his journey through the mythology and reality of classic rock, beginning as a teenager listening to the radio and collecting tapes. He winkingly likens it to the heroes journey, beginning with his adolescence and yearning to understand the music he loves, but he is not blind by the limits and foibles of the genre. While people bemoan the loss of the stature of rock music in the modern day pop structure, the author is willing to cast a critical eye as people of color, women and LGBT fans are left at the threshold which is seemingly stultified with aging while males only. His obsessions with particular musicians like Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen echo the love of many suburban fans, but the author is able to dig deeper into the search for literary meaning in Dylan and the nature of class and poverty in Springsteen. That isn't say this is a dry academic book, far from it, Hyden is a journalist and this is a general interest book that has wit and charm. He delves into into the lives of aging rock stars and the phenomenon of "dad rock" and the interest people carry into such "uncool" bands as Phish, who he feels actually represent a portion of the classic rock continuum in the form of guitar solos, instrumental virtuosity and honoring their ancestors through the elaborate staging of concerts covering the entirety of a classic rock LP. Finally, he asks what will happen when all the classic rock heroes have passed away? Not with a sense of morbidity, but with clear eyed eventuality, and the possibility of carrying the torch of classic rock into that distant future. This was a fine book to read, Hyden is a very good writer with some interesting ideas, making this book well worth your time. Twilight of the Gods: A Journey to the End of Classic Rock - amazon.com

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Saturday, May 19, 2018

Sun Ra - The Cymbals​/​Symbols Sessions: New York, 1973 (Modern Harmonic, 2018)

After a long time scuffling and building an audience, the great composer and keyboardist Sun Ra was finally recognized with a major label contract in 1973. His agreement with Impulse! Records, was supposed to release a wide range of material, but it was curtailed after just a few years. This is a two disc set, has the album Cymbals on the first disc and previously unreleased material from the same sessions on the second. Cymbals was never released by Impulse!, but it did come out on Evidence as part of the The Great Lost Sun Ra Albums package (along with Crystal Spears.) Regardless, this is a very good session with Ra playing his own open ended compositions with his group playing in quartet and sextet formations. "Thoughts Under a Dark Blue Light" is the longest track on the album, and it offers thick acoustic bass and splashy cymbals amidst Ra's electric keyboard and riffing horns. Gritty tenor saxophone branches out for a distinctive solo framed by the organ and keyboards and strong rhythmic support. The great saxophonist John Gilmore gradually takes his solo farther out, testing the boundaries of the music, while maintaining the raw soulfulness at the core of his sound. He really hits his stride about six minutes in with torrid runs of emotionally resonant sound that is something to behold. Ronnie Boykins' bass playing is the lynch pin of this whole session, and he is utterly unperturbed by the chaos around him, as he anchors the music to the ground. Sun Ra adds swaths of organ crystallizing around hand percussion and bass, while punchy trumpet from Akh Tal Ebah emerges late in the piece, increasing the tempo and leading to the fade out. "The Mystery of Two" has epic grinding organ that prog rockers could only dream of as Harry Richards's cymbals slash underneath. Strong bass and trumpet fill out the sound and create a strong edifice that supports a relentless trumpet solo over swelling organ, drums and stoic bass. The shorter "Land of the Day Star" initially sounds like Chicago era Sun Ra with the wonderful bowed bass and riffing horns, but it's the leader's exotic keyboard that makes it thoroughly of its time, as saxophone billows out and drums push the music forward. "The Universe Is Calling," a quintessentially Ra title, mines a nice organ groove with taut and citrus alto saxophone from Danny Davis stretching out into the cosmos, increasing the elasticity of the continuum of music that the band explores. Ra opens up, riding the bubbling bass and percussion as Elmoe Omoe's bass clarinet burbles underneath. Sci-Fi keyborards and a full compliment of horns clear the path for "Space Landing" with raw saxophone and strong drums making this one of the freest performances on the album, looking to transcend the boundaries of jazz and improvised music. "Of Otherness" develops a bright and bouncy feel, with Ra's organ pinwheeling around the band, threatening to cheese out but then always pivoting in a direction you don't expect, and the track "Myth Evidential" takes this even further. Ra's mines the possibilities of the electronic keyboards for all they are worth, moving from krautrock to post-bop and beyond. It's classic Sun Ra, and the restlessness and refusal to be categorized that makes it so appealing today, is probably what doomed it to be unreleased in its time. Regardless, this is an excellent album with some relatively unknown players joining Ra stalwarts to create some very memorable music. The Cymbals - Symbols Sessions - amazon.com

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Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Akira Sataka - Proton Pump (Family Vineyard, 2018)

Alto saxophonist Akira Sakata is one of the most famous members of the Japanese free jazz scene, with a unique scouring tone and an unfettered and exciting approach to the music. On this album he adds clarinet, vocals and percussion to his repertoire in the company of Masahiko Satoh on piano, Chris Corsano on drums and Darin Gray upright bass and percussion. This album was recorded live at the Pit Inn, Tokyo in October 2015 and opens with with the title track, the roaring “Proton Pump” which shines a light on Sakata's raw and righteous saxophone playing. The band falls in behind him, hurrying to keep pace and developing a wide open rhythmic approach. There is a top notch collective improvisation, with Corsano's rolling and clattering drums matching up with Gray's stoic bass and the unpredictable piano playing of Satoh. The music moves forward at a burning clip, ratcheting up to a very exciting level of volume as Sakata digs in deep and soars against the powerful backdrop, before laying out for a sparkling area for the rhythm section to explore. Satoh is featured and he has a very interesting approach to the instrument, reminiscent of Cecil Taylor. Sakata returns with a stark and yearning solo to minimal accompaniment, with the band coming together for a bracing race to the crashing and cunning finish. "Bullet Apoptosis" follows with Sakata swirling on clarinet, probing and looking for an opening. The music is open and breathable, with taut bass playing meeting crisp drumming and punchy piano chords to create a balanced atmosphere. I'm not really familiar with Sakata's clarinet playing, but he just owns it, leaping gymnastically around the soundstage as bright piano and raucous drumming give chase. after a breather he cruises back in with neon toned clarinet swooping and swaying joyously through the relentless thicket of sound making for a nearly overpowering full band improvisation. "Chemiosmotic Coupling of Acorn" has spacious bowed bass and Sakata's vocalizing - this is something of an acquitted taste, but he's all in and clearly feeling it as he bellows and cries over subtle bass and percussion. The piano glides in as the volume gradually increases with close interplay, and Sakata scats with bravado and the music flows forth effortlessly. He returns to saxophone in duet with his old compatriot Satoh, before the bass and drums roar in and take the music to another level of thrilling all out free jazz collective improvisation, this is just mind melting stuff on par with any Brotzmann or Vandermark unit. The concluding track "Voyage of the Eukaryote" is a spacious clarinet, bass and percussion track, with the sound slowly building around Skakta's quicksilver playing. They create a fast paced and interesting improvisation that is the perfect conclusion to a stellar album that all open eared music fans should keep an eye out for. Proton Pump - amazon.com

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Monday, May 14, 2018

Tim Berne / Matt Mitchell - Angel Dusk (Screwgun Records, 2018)

This is a very interesting duet album featuring Tim Berne on alto saxophone and Matt Mitchell on piano, continuing a collaboration of several years which has seen Mitchell perform in Berne's groups and record an album of the saxophonists compositions for solo piano. This album has them collaborating as equals, starting with "Perception/Reception" during which the phrases the two musicians develop slowly and engage one another, building forth as raw and exciting saxophone and crystallize droplets of piano, coalescing in a rending, yearning improvisation as Berne's saxophone moves from light to darkness dramatically and the music grows organically in a near suite like formation. This is followed by the short and very sweet "Not Too Two" which blasts out of gate fast and furious with low piano chords supporting the strong saxophone, turning this into a powerful collective improvisation, one that doesn't letup as they race for the finish line in an exciting and vital fashion. "Exception/Pest" expands an open ended and spacious yearning feel in which the musicians weave a story that gradually gathers pace, beginning with rounded melodic material, moving mysterious eddies of sound. The music comes into focus as a powerful duo improvisation as thrilling ripe squeals of saxophone combined with compelling piano chords. Pinched saxophone in a solo configuration sets the tone for "Conception" as Mitchell's spare piano frames the expressive reed playing, going more deeply engaged as the music develops. The music grows faster on "Starfish Blues" where deeply hewn chords of piano meeting unfettered saxophone playing in a very appealing fashion, pulling together with a great force of effort. "Chance" is lighter and more open, with the piano breaking through like rays of sunlight, which builds a gentle glow that pervades the piece. They come together and increase the music's heft to a powerhouse conclusion. "Snail's Pace" has an atmospheric spare sound to the piano, soon joined by stark saxophone as the music becomes edgy and restless, developing acute angles that keep the the improvisation fresh and interesting. The music reflects as if off of a funhouse mirror, raw and scouring saxophone glinting off of ripe piano playing. The album concludes with "Petulance" where the musicians develop a rippling and muscular interplay, interacting in a nimble fashion, flexing their musical knowledge in a riveting performance that really moves the air. Berne and Mitchell are inspired throughout this album with the taut saxophone and colorful piano making for an inspired match. There is a great devotion to the music that is captivating to hear and makes this a must-hear for fans of progressive jazz. Angel Dusk - amazon.com

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Sunday, May 13, 2018

Kenny Barron Quintet - Concentric Circles (Blue Note, 2018)

The newest version of NEA Jazz Master pianist and composer Kenny Barron's band features new edition of the Kenny Barron Quintet with saxophonist Dayna Stephens, trumpeter Mike Rodriguez, bassist Kiyoshi Kitagawa, and drummer Johnathan Blake. They create a very appealing modern mainstream jazz LP that displays excellent ensemble playing and some spirited solo statements. "DPW" opens the album with a brightly swinging full band romp, with the horns framing the rhythm section and everything meshing well together. A nice saxophone solo shakes loose, followed by a probing trumpet interlude, with Barron's piano leading the bass and drums through their paces in a rapid and rhythmic trio section, as boiling drums simmer to the end of the performance. This rich rhythmic foundation continues in the undercurrent of "Blue Waters," setting a medium pace for the horns to glide into. They ease into a bouncy rhythm that is quite pleasant, setting up a strong trumpet feature, which develops a punchy and propulsive solo, before passing the baron to Stephens who develops an intricate statement of his own. Barron's own centerpiece is rich and patient, allowing the music to breathe and interacting well with the bass and drums. "Von Hangman" has a fast paced rhythm and is arranged to have a little big band feel to the opening portion of the performance. This leads to a string of impressive solo statements, beginning with Stephens, whose tone is engaging and hot enough to keep pace with the opening. Barron's piano playing is masterful, as he lopes grandly through the thicket of bass and drums, then bringing the horns back to take the tune out in fine fashion. The group establishes an engaging mid-tempo setting for "Baile" with Barron taking the reins for an intricate and slightly exotic melody that is embellished by the saxophone and trumpet, in solo and conversational configurations. Kitagawa's rich tone on the bass anchors the group and provides a firm foundation for the trumpet and saxophone to trade inventive short phrases over. The rhythm section bubbles in an enticing fashion with Barron's bouncy and buoyant piano leading group in a congenial manner. "L's Bop" has a rapid and intricate melody with the musicians intertwining with one another and then setting Rodriguez loose for a fast paced and well articulated solo with the rhythm team pushing hard, and Stephens taking over and engaging with loping elastic bass to good effect. The band swings briskly, allowing the appealing melody and the story of the bebop idiom to flow as Barron effortlessly demonstrates a lifetime's worth of polishing his craft in a wonderful feature. "I'm Just Sayin'" develops a sly and spirited groove that allows much room for excellent ensemble playing and soloing, with a bluesy hard bop feel permeating the whole performance. Barron concludes with a solo version of Thelonious Monk's "Reflections" that ends the album on a thoughtful and gracious note. Concentric Circles - amazon.com

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Saturday, May 12, 2018

Eddie Henderson - Be Cool (Smoke Sessions, 2018)

This is a very strong mainstream jazz album led by veteran trumpet player Eddie Henderson in the company of Kenny Barron on piano, Donald Harrison on saxophone, Essiet Essiet on bass and Mike Clark on drums. They come together for a fine, egoless session of originals and well known jazz standards that make for an enjoyable and accessible album. Mike Clark is quite well attuned to the rhythmic possibilities of the drums, and he and Essiet lay down the law on “Loft Funk” setting a strong foundation with pleasant chords from Barron building a fresh and funky feel for the brass to develop an interesting theme and short series of improvisations. This leads into a trio of excellent performances of well known jazz standards, beginning with “Fran-Dance” by Miles Davis, who was actually a friend of Henderson's family whom he met while growing up. A longtime admirer of Davis’s playing, this gives him excellent insight into the composition and inspires him into a slow burning solo that smolders throughout the performance. The rest of band plays in a subtle and refined manner which allows the familiar melody to really shine through. Another legendary trumpet player gets their due with their performance of Woody Shaw’s “The Moontrane.” This is a bright and punchy track with strong full band ensemble playing and some outstanding solos. Henderson’s solo is punchy and forward looking, driving the music forward with some deep seated saxophone on the side and powerfully swinging playing from the rhythm section. They top off this triumvirate of covers with an accomplished version of John Coltrane’s famous composition “Naima.” This is another attractive ballad from this collection, leaving plenty of space for Harrison to construct a well designed saxophone solo. Henderson held down the trumpet chair in some of Herbie Hancock’s electric ensembles in the early seventies which he alludes to in the original “The Sand Castle Head Hunter” and it builds a funky and snappy momentum which results in a fine ensemble performance and a tight groove. They take this up again with Hancock’s own “Toys” performed by the band in a respectful and classy formation. This album works very well, with a first rate selection of tunes, and crack playing from a very talented band. Smoke Sessions is really on a roll, with this collection joining the recent Renee Rosnes album among the best mainstream jazz LP’s so far this year. Be Cool - amazon.com

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Thursday, May 10, 2018

Jeff Cosgrove / Ken Filiano / Scott Robinson - Hunters and Gatherers (Grizzley Music, 2018)

This is a very interesting modern jazz album, featuring the trio of Jeff Cosgrove on drums, Scott Robinson on saxophone and Ken Filiano on bass. All of the selections of the album are collectively composed by the except an excellent cover of Ornette Coleman's "Lonely Woman" that concludes the album. Jeff Cosgrove has made a several album as a collaborator with the likes of Matthew Shipp and he plays a propulsive rhythmic focus that fits in very well with the other two musicians, switching between blistering stick playing and subtle percussion in a nimble and unexpected fashion. He keeps the short to medium length performances moving along briskly playing in fine fashion with his veteran collaborators. "Don't Look (Just Run)" has an ominous and propulsive elasticity from the bass playing and drumming, which is met by bursts of expressive saxophone. The music moves along quickly with bowed bass adding to the tension along with deft cymbal play and quivering gales of saxophone, creating an emotionally resonant performance. The deeply textured saxophone leads the trio into "High, Low" which builds to an impressive collective improvisation that uses the notions of space and time to allow greater flexibility as the music develops. Quick bursts of high pitched saxophone keep the sound from becoming stale and Robinson juxtaposes these high sounds with rolling guttural bursts making for an exciting and dynamic performance. This carries through to the all too short "Instinct" which is a thrilling blast of free jazz lasting under a minute. "Simple Justification" is the longest track on the album, a slowly building performance that begins with subtle interplay between the three instruments that gradually rises in volume and intensity, with long tones of saxophone and bass that lays the groundwork for what is to come. The musicians weave their individual sounds together and create a cohesive trio approach that is very appealing in that the improvisation is well paced, and a truly collective endeavor. The group ends the album with a very thoughtful and well played version of "Lonely Woman" that takes the haunting and instantly memorable melody and uses it as a foundation for a spacious improvisation incorporating bowed bass, quavering saxophone and deft percussion. Overall this album worked quite well, showcasing three musicians that are very well attuned to one another and the material they present, creating an enjoyable and exciting album. Hunters and Scavengers - amazon.com

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Saturday, May 05, 2018

Bill Frisell - Music IS (Okeh / Sony Masterworks, 2018)

Bill Frisell has put out a couple of stellar solo guitar records like the extraordinary 2000 album Ghost Town, and my 2013 Album of the Year, Silent Comedy. While this album may not climb to the heights of those masterpieces, it is still quite good and well worth hearing. This album is a mix of new and old Frisell compositions, beginning with "Pretty Stars" which has a soft and gentle melody with lullaby like accessibility. He takes a simple and uncluttered approach to the theme and improvisation, with the use of effects and loops allowing him to harmonize with himself. "Winslow Homer," a tribute to the famous artist uses swathes of sharp notes and chords in an approach that is more strident and less dreamy than the prior song. The music becomes louder and more rhythmic with choppy loops bouncing off of one another. There is a darker nighttime feel to "Change is in the Air" with lonely tones and a haunting cinematic noir sensibility creating spare and quiet sustained ringing notes and loops that hang in the air mysteriously. "Thankful" is full sounding track with the loops wrapped around the improvised section, with other effects giving the music an otherworldly air. First released on his Blues Dream LP "Ron Carter," his tribute to the great bassist is this time is given a treatment that would be at home in the soundtrack to some dusty western film, perhaps a spaghetti western starring Clint Eastwood. "Think About It" goes in the other direction entirely, a one minute blast of Naked City era snarling and overamped electric guitar, making for a bracing wake up call. Another remake of an earlier composition is "In Line" which is full of intensity as he discovers new threads to pull in this old song. The electronic manipulation of the sound offers a more intimate and dynamic performance that shifts mood halfway through, blooming with louder thematic material. "Rambler" is one of Frisell's most famous songs, and it is presented here as the longest track on the album, allowing him to divide up the familiar melody with electronic accents, allowing color and shade to shape the evolving improvisation. Precise patterns of beautiful melody emerge with loops and effects framing them. There are a couple of melodic fragments at work on "Monica Jane" that intertwine with well articulated notes and chords veering back into uneasy coexistence as the song develops. "Kentucky Derby" has some surprisingly grinding guitar with loops and electronics adding a futuristic tinge that makes the music glow as shards of guitar and backward looping sounds allow the proceedings to swell and expand. The album ends with a shorter alternate version of "Rambler" that has a friendly nature to it, like watching the setting sun, simply played with no accouterments, making it a fitting end to a fine album. Music IS - amazon.com

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Friday, May 04, 2018

Angelika Niescier - The Berlin Concert (Intakt Records, 2018)

Polish born saxophonist Angelika Niescier was awarded the 2017 German Jazz Prize, as "one of the most interesting musicians on the European jazz scene." This level of praise is well deserved considering the playing on this album which has her in the august company of Tyshawn Sorey on drums and Chris Tordini on bass, presenting a concert took place after she received the award. The three musicians create a unique sound that emerges from their musical curiosity and attention to detail. "Kundry" opens the album in fine fashion with bright and choppy saxophone leading the trio into a brisk and exciting performance. The instruments are very well integrated and the trio works fluidly as a team with igneous streams of saxophone porting forth matched by bursts of percussion and thick, powerful bass playing. Their collective improvisation is bracing and powerful, with raw exclamations met by sharp interplay, embracing new challenges presented by the music, weaving inside and outside, between form and freedom. The group follows with "Like Sheep, Looking Up" where they have an interesting melody to begin with, which is then developed in the direction of a free form exploration. The playing is intricate and shows real depth, with the bass and drums developing a complex and fascinating rhythm that Niescier can engage with or soar over at will, allowing the the drama of the music to unfold in a natural and organic manner. On stage the group has clearly developed a very strong rapport, with intuitively knowledge about how the improvisation should proceed, as dark toned and gritty saxophone meeting stoic bass and kinetic percussion in an impressive approach. There is a quiet and thoughtful bass solo, before the group returns to the original melody to conclude. "5.8" moves into more abstract territory with subtle bowed bass and saxophone layering sounds and building patterns in the air with soft percussion folding into the mixture. The music is very free and  unrestricted, drifting with brushed percussion and searching saxophone showing also endlessly curiosity about how music and open space can coexist. The group returns to a collective uptempo setting for "The Surge" as colorful saxophone comes bursting forth with ripe bass and drums in support. This is a very fast and exciting performance, a long uptempo collective improvisation that shows the group at their best. The leader's saxophone playing is thrilling, as she romps through the music with unrestrained joy, and the improvisation is unpredictable and rhythmically dexterous as the performance develops in a freewheeling formation, with ample solo space for bass and drums which allows the musicians to make dynamic adjustments on the fly. The Berlin Concert - amazon.com

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